So having been surprised, in January this year, by my best friend’s husband, funnily enough on my best friend’s birthday, that they were taking both myself and my youngest away, in what was only going to be in a matter of a few short months, we were going to be off to sunny Greece! This was such an amazing and lovely surprise!
Eeeek, so here we are now with only a couple of weeks to go before jetting off! This is both exciting and daunting in equal measures!
The last time I had taken my daughter away was four years ago, and whilst my middle daughter was accompanying us, I had TOTALLY underestimated how difficult this was going to be! We had previously been to Australia, when my youngest was just 3yrs old, with no major issues, so why would I have considered going on holiday again would be a problem for her aged 7yrs?
Well the simple answer to that was, at 3, she hadn’t been displaying any major behaviour issues or difficulties and she was certainly a few years off of being diagnosed with ‘Autism with features consistent with Pathological Demand Avoidance’!
I had totally underestimated the difficulties!
Unfortunately the holiday, to Marrakesh, aged 7yrs, came with a whole host of difficulties! I don’t really remember any major difficulties or anxieties in the lead up to going away, however what I DO recall is significant difficulties at the airport, difficulties on the plane, difficulties once there and the daily difficulties even getting out of our room in the morning!
At the airport, it was naturally out of routine and very busy – with hindsight, of course it was going to be an overwhelming anxiety provoking experience and cause overload! But I honesty hadn’t given it any prior consideration! Yes we had received the diagnosis only a matter of months previously, however I didn’t truly know what that meant for us or understand the implications of this.
At one point my daughter tried to abscond, the busy, noisy, overwhelming environment was just too much for her! The waiting in numerous queues was also too much, that’s not forgetting the extreme irritation and agitation she experienced by having people too close to her or accidentally bumping into her! The growling, swearing, kicking out and pinching me were all massive clues – something that I should have been aware of beforehand!
When we eventually got on the plane, having jostled to get into our seats, having fought for hand luggage space and having wrestled to get whatever she needed out of her bag (on multiple occasions), we finally got settled, or so I thought! All of a sudden, my daughter started having what I can only describe as a panic attack! Shouting and screaming how she ‘needed’ to get off of the plane! Oh my, what on earth was going on? She had flown before, what was the issue? I felt compounded to inform the air hostess that my daughter was Autistic (I think this was the first stranger I had ever told!) and was struggling, just in case we ended up having to vacate the plane! She was very nice as well as understanding and helped me to distract my daughter.
Having eventually calmed her down and reassured her that everything was going to be okay, she was going to be fine and stolen her sister’s Ipad to use as a distraction, I breathed a massive sigh of relief! Thankfully, we managed to get through the rest of the flight without any further major issue.
Landing was slightly tricky but only with the usual ear problems that many of us can relate to, but we made it down and thankfully had arrived!
After a short transfer to the hotel, to my relief, my daughter was super excited to explore the hotel and even more excited when she saw the pools, particularly the one with multiple water slides! Phew, we are going to be ok or so I thought!
Unfortunately though there were further challenges, again things that I had not even given consideration to.
Transitions were so difficult
Every morning, it appeared that as soon as I brushed her hair this quickly led to meltdown; screaming, lashing out at me and swearing at myself and her sister. At the time I thought this was a sensory issue and her mood switch was triggered by having her hair done which was clearly painful. However, it later (much later) dawned on me that this was more likely to be a transitional difficulty. Having her hair done was the last thing to be done before we left our room and went to the restaurant for breakfast! It was actually leaving our room that was the issue!
It also became apparent that the restaurant was too overwhelming for my daughter, the different smells, the different food, the crowds of people! I thought by having gone ‘all-inclusive’ I had done the right thing, thinking that my daughter could have whatever she wanted whenever she wanted it. However, I hadn’t considered that by choosing this option, it would come with all these additional difficulties and be problematic.
Date with the life guard?!
Something that I was conscious of previously, but hadn’t given it a second thought prior to coming on holiday, was how over familiar my daughter can be with strangers. This surfaced in the shape of a male lifeguard! Having worked hard on encouraging my daughter to have the confidence to independently (still within sight) go on the water slides (this took a few days), my daughter came excitedly running over to my sun lounger to inform me that she ‘had got a date’ with the lifeguard that evening! What? She was 7! Despite conversations around the appropriateness, or more importantly the inappropriateness of this, this triggered a full on planning event including what she was going to wear, how she was going to have her hair etc! And of course, further explanations, comfort and discussions were needed with a very disappointed child when the lifeguard didn’t turn up!
One positive though was she MADE A FRIEND! She actually made a friend which was amazing! However there was still that tense moment, when she had made this friend, where I hoped with all hope that she wouldn’t say anything inappropriate or get angry and lash out or become too obsessed with this new found friend!
Nightmare trip outside the safety of the complex
On a side note: we had the opportunity to take a trip out of the complex and visit the local Square and after some thought we decided we would go, both the girls were keen to get a Henna tattoo, so off we went. We were advised by the hotel staff that there would be some ‘tour guides’ but not to go with them as they would ‘rip us off’, however as the bus drew into the Square we were met by what seemed like a nice and reasonable tour guide. Thankfully we took the offer of being shown round as we ended up having a very scary experience! A lady in the Square approached us, extremely keen to offer ‘a free Henna tattoo’, swooning with compliments about how beautiful my girls were etc. Despite my polite but firm resistance, she grabbed my youngest daughter’s arm, whilst insisting it ‘was free’, and Henna’ed her hand and arm. Before I knew she had also done my elder daughter’s arm too. This is when she became quite sinister, demanding payment for these ‘free’ tattoos! Thankfully the guide got rid of her but then, with some urgency he ushered us into a back street to find water to wash these off, both my girls were already complaining of the tattoos becoming itchy – it turned out there was something in the Henna that was an irritant! Thank goodness we had this tour guide!
I’m not going to lie, after this scary experience it was a relief to finally get back to the safety of the complex! Back to the pool and sun loungers.
So the daily meltdowns around leaving our room and the issues with the restaurant continued to be a daily battle, it was then that I vowed to myself that this would, sadly, be our last holiday – it really wasn’t worth the added stress or distress for my daughter! Yet another ‘normal’ thing to strike off of the ever decreasing list that we were able to do.
I felt really bad, what an awful mum I had been not to have totally understood and grasped how difficult this whole experience was for her!
What we are going to do differently this time!
Ok so it is less than two weeks before we are whisked away, am I dreading it? Ummm no, surprisingly I’m not! A little apprehensive, yes, but not the feeling of dread! Our last holiday experience was a massive learning curve for me and I will definitely be doing things totally differently!
And here is how, if all goes to plan:
I’d discovered ‘Special Assistance’
First and foremost, from what we now know, there is something that most airports offer and that’s something called ‘Special Assistance’ – oooh yes, we have definitely signed up for this! We will be given a special lanyard to wear that indicates to staff that my daughter has a hidden disability, there is a quiet lounge where we will be able to sit away from the noisy, busy hustle and bustle of other passengers, we will also be able to fast track queues as well as be able to board the plane first. This is definitely going to make life easier!
Even just being able to board the plane first will mean that we won’t have to fight to get to our seats, or fight for hand luggage space. We can calmly get settled into our seats, with whatever anxiety reducing tools we need (yes I am going armed this time!) – probably with the ipad, ipod for music with headphones, sweets, things to do etc! She can then be distracted, as much as possible, from the idea of taking off and being thousands of feet in the air. I will have snacks and drinks readily available and a blanket to hide under should there be the need!
Doing it differently
Additionally, this time round we are going to somewhere totally different; a quiet resort, with an apartment with a pool which is also self-catering. If I’m honest, whilst self-catering scares me a little, as my daughter is constantly ‘hungry’ so could end up costing a small fortune, the positive is there will be no packed out hotel restaurant with hundreds of people to contend with! Therefore I’m hoping for chilled out meal times, no rush to get to breakfast or lunch and quiet small restaurants to visit in the evening. Everything crossed!
The other positive is there won’t be hordes of people in the pool or the fight to get a particular sun lounger!
The other massive bonus, particularly for me, about this holiday is that I’ve got my best friend and her husband as extra pairs of hands to distract, entertain and diffuse any situation that may occur.
So everything crossed this is going to be a much more pleasurable experience for us both…..wish me luck!!